Sign And Deliver: Email Signups And Fill-Ins Under GDPR

The GDPR circus is roaring along, with barely two months to go before implementation — and many marketers are grappling with the “consent” requirement. Just what does it mean? 

It means that people must give you permission — to do anything. But first you have to ask for it. And many companies just aren’t good at doing that -- not when it comes to email signups, according to The State of Retail Email Subscribe Forms In 2018, a study by the UK firm Holistic Email Marketing, partnering with Pure 360.

For example, only 46% of firms offer clear benefits for subscribing to their email newsletter. The rest fail to answer that age-old question: “What’s in it for me?”, as the study says.

In another worst practice, 87% put their email newsletter signup below the fold on websites. The study notes that “invisibility is a conversion killer.”

At the same time, 15% of brands position their social media links above the email signup — a no-no, given that email is much more  One brand doesn’t even have a subscribe option on its home page. To determine all this, Holistic subscribed to emails from 80 UK retail brands and registered as customers.



So what works? Popover forms (or lightboxes or overlays) are one sign-up option: They are used by 27%. These devices appear on a web page when the person lands on it, or on a product page, or when the page detects that the visitor is about to leave without converting. They have a clear call to action, but you have to provide more than an offer.

Even better are incentives, which are utilized by 53%. Discounts are one popular option. But these messages, too, often get stuck below the fold.

In fairness, the email team doesn’t often get to decide where the subscribe form will go, the study observes.

Now we get to the sticky question of fields. Of the retailers surveyed, 39% used only one mandatory field in their sign-up forms. This speeds up the subscribe process, but you lose a chance to gain data.

In contrast, 50% utilize optional fields (and 50% fail to do so). Progressive profiling, a user-friendly way of getting data after the opt-in, is deployed by only 17/%.

Then there’s the call to action. Of those polled, 79% use “S” words — i.e., “sign up” (52%), “submit” (20%) and “subscribe” (76). It’s best to avoid all of them.

“’Submit’ is the worst ‘S word’ because it’s tech language,” the study observes. “It implies coercion or lack of will — two concepts you certainly don’t want customers to be associated with your email!” 

Okay. The person has signed up. What’s next? There’s registration. Among retailers that allow account registration, only 36% had an obvious registration button. Why hide it?

At the same time, 62% allow customers to register with the same email address they just used to sign up. What’s wrong with the other 38%? They are providing “confusing and poor customer experience,” the study states.

In another dicey practice, 84% of registration forms have tickboxes asking for marketing permission. Some sources say this is good. But “none used double opt-in to confirm the address validity,” the study continues.

Then there’s the pre-checked opt-out tickbox, used by 49%. This is no longer adequate under GDPR 

In another finding, 64% take customers to their account page/preference settings. And only 43% send an account registration confirmation email.

What’s in? Avoid these practices:

  • Pre-ticked boxes on a registration form 
  • Default opt-in—where the person is opted in unless they tick a box asking to be opted out.
  • Notifying customers in your Terms & Conditions notices that receiving marketing emails is required to open an account, download information or request a service.

Confusing or misleading instructions.

What’s in? 

  • Clear and provable consent.
  • Transparency.
  • Creativity in asking permission.

Finally, take note of these consumer rights under GDPR, as listed in a not-so-friendly article in Silicon Republic. We quote:

  • Know how your data is being processed by an organization or business
  • Obtain copies of your personal data
  • Have any incomplete or incorrect data fixed
  • Have any data held erased upon request (if there’s no legitimate reason to hold on to it)
  • Transfer data to another organization
  • Object to the processing of data in certain circumstances
  • Not to be subjected to automated decision-making.



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